How first-time Australian director Michael Gracey landed a Hollywood musical

 In U.S.
 For an Australian filmmaker making a name in Hollywood, Michael Gracey is virtually unknown in his own country.

But the visual effects artist and commercials director has just directed his first movie – and it happens to be a mega-budget musical about circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams with music by two of the composers who won an Oscar for La La Land this year.

Trailer: The Greatest Showman

Based on a true story, a man rises from poverty by creating a stage show that becomes a global sensation.

While yet to open anywhere – it’s out in the US this week and Australia on Boxing Day – The Greatest Showman has already been nominated for three Golden Globes, including best musical or comedy movie, best actor for Jackman and best original song for the stirring This is Me.

So how did a newcomer land a gig like that?

“That’s a very good question,” Gracey said cheerfully ahead of the Australian premiere in Sydney on Wednesday night. “It came out of doing a commercial with Hugh for the Japanese market.

“I actually got the gig because they thought, being Australian, I knew Hugh Jackman, and I didn’t. But I also didn’t correct them.”

After bonding over that Ice Tea commercial, Jackman suggested they make a movie together then surprised his new friend by sending him the script for The Greatest Showman.

“That started a seven-year journey,” Gracey said. “We went down a number of different paths.

“There was a stage where we were being encouraged to do a jukebox musical … But not being content with that, Hugh and I were like ‘let’s make an original musical’.”

The movie follows Barnum’s rise from humble origins to drawing together all kinds of exotic performers – a bearded lady, a tiny man, conjoined twins – into a phenomenally successful circus then risking everything on a singing tour by a Swedish soprano.

Gracey said fellow Australians Baz Luhrmann, Tim Minchin and Peter Allen were inspirations as he made The Greatest Showman.

“There is something about musical narrative and Australians,” he said. “If you want to do something, you kind of have to do it at a level – because we’re so far away from everywhere else – that exceeds what is just normal if you want to convince people that some guy from Australia is worth backing for an original musical.”

Gracey hopes The Greatest Showman will have a life like classic original musicals The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain and Mary Poppins.

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